Jacob’s journey is a lot like watching WWE [Royal Rumble]. Jacob’s life is a total man soap opera. We have already learned that Jacob—the trickster—gets tricked into working 20 years for his uncle [Laban] and tricked into marrying his two daughters. The elder sister [Lazy-eye Leah] is named cow and looks the part, while the younger sister [Red hot Rachel] is cute as a lamb. Sibling rivalry between the sisters lands Jacob with 12 children. Jacob’s home looks a quite redneck, but in the sin-spiraling drama God sovereignly keeps His promise to Jacob and calls him back to the Promised Land.
Jacob heads home and gives his brother a heads-up [Genesis 32:1-8]
After being away from mommy [Rebekah] and his ticked-off brother [Esau] for two decades Jacob decides it is time to pack up his family and journey home. On his way angels meet him at the border of the Promised Land. They are a sure sign of God’s protection and presence upon Jacob [cf. 28:15].
Jacob then realizes at his homecoming he will have to face his brother Esau whom twenty years early he had ripped of his birthright and father’s deathbed blessing. So Jacob sends messengers to Esau giving him a happy, “Hello, I’m coming home bro!” The message is simple: I am coming soon and I got gifts. Jacob was seeking peace and desired to bless Esau with gifts hoping make up for the blessings he stole from Esau. The messengers did their duty and returned to tell Jacob that Esau was coming with four hundred men who were either an entourage to welcome Jacob or an army to thump him. Thinking the worst, Jacob splits his people and animals into two groups hoping that at least one could flee and survive if attacked.
Jacob comes to God in faith [Genesis 32:9-21]
Jacob faith seems to be growing slowly since he first encountered God in a dream [28:10ff]. In a short prayer we learn a lot about his faith and his view of God. First, he remembers God’s promises to his dad and grandpa. Second, he confesses his sin to God. Third, he thanks God for His faithfulness and steadfast love. Fourth, he acknowledges his fear and admits his utter dependence upon God for deliverance.
Jacob’s prayer teaches us a lot about prayer. If I were Jacob I would be pleading God for mercy with a mountain of requests, “God can’t you see I am about to die? Won’t you do something? You promised! Help!“ However, Jacob doesn’t freak out, rather he comes to God with prayers of worship and thanksgiving. How often do you come to God with praise and “thank you” for what you do have before you ask for what you do not have?
Before Jacob met his brother he packaged a very large gift for Esau, wrapped each with a shiny bow, and had them delivered one by one. It was like a parade minus the clowns and candy. He did all this with the hope of winning over his brother’s affection to wipe the slate of offense clean. There is a sense that the motive of Jacob’s heart is fear of what his brother will say and do. It is no less appropriate to pacify an offended brother than to appease an offended God.
Jacob gets thrown down and in the ring with God [Genesis 32:22-32]
The same night, Jacob and his family cross over the border into the Promised Land. Once they crossed over safely Jacob was left alone without bodyguards or protection. A man comes to Jacob and whacks him. The man initiates a physical struggle, but Jacob’s strength is regarded and he would not give up until the man gave him a blessing.
At dawn [cf. Exodus 33:20; Numbers 12:8], the two men stopped wrestling and the man changed Jacob’s [meaning trickster] name to Israel [meaning wrestles with God and perseveres]. He transitions from a one who tricked to get ahead to a man of faith who trusted God to bless and protect him according to His covenant promises.
For a one hundred year old man it is fitting that the other man would strike Jacob on the hip and throw it out of joint. This wound would mark Jacob for the rest of his life with a limp. Everyone who saw Jacob limping around would know it was God that fought him and blessed him. Jacob’s journey with God climax that night, but he came out a God-worshiper. I would rather limp with my dignity than walk without it. And I would rather limp with a blessing than skip without one.
This could be one of the strangest stories in the Bible because it leaves us puzzled and asking, who is this unnamed man who wrestles with Jacob? The struggle is not elaborate, but it is certainly deliberate. The man’s identity is reveal—He is God [or pre-incarnate Christ, 32:28; cf. 16:7; Hosea 12:2-6]. Through the wrestling match Jacob grows in faith to the level that he becomes a servant of God and is ready to reenter the Promised Land as a new man with a new name. The point of Jacob’s journey is not that he was wrestling with Laban or Esau, but rather he was wrestling with God. A lot like you and me, don’t you think? There is a lot from Jacob’s journey that we can learn about God and how He interacts with you and me.
First, just like Jacob, we wrestle with God [vs. 24-26]. There are a lot of ways we can wrestle with God other than a physical fistfight. Like Jacob you have been warring and striving against God from birth. You might be wrestling with God’s calling upon your life (i.e. which school, what job, who to date/marry), with difficult truths and doctrines (i.e. God’s Sovereignty, human responsibility), with the difficulties or tragedies of life (i.e. death, health, family struggles), with personal struggles with sin (i.e. repentance, confession, freedom), and with your salvation. Jacob’s struggle began when he stepped into the border of the Promised Land. When you push the boundaries with God get ready for a wrestling match.
Second, just like Jacob, when God touches you, you are never the same again [vs. 25, 31]. Third, just like Jacob, God is still in the name changing business [v.28]. In the Old Testament, one’s name and one’s nature were synonymous. Jesus name was given to Him because he saved people from their sins [Matthew 1:21]. Jesus changed Peters name, which changed the course of his life from fish to people [John 1:42]. Jesus promises all who follow Him a new name [Revelation 2:17; 3:12]. You need to have your ‘name changed’ and live out of the right one, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” [2 Corinthians 5:17] “Clothe yourself with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” [Ephesians 4:24] Which name are you living out of today?
Fourth, just like Jacob, God does not let self-serving, self-sufficient, independent people into the Promised Land [v.30]. Only they who depend on God in faith get to go and rest in Him. You can strive to get there by your own goodness or good deeds, but as Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able” [Luke 13:24] and “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” [Matthew 19:23-24]
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